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Fall 2011 Undergraduate English Courses: Twentieth Century

350:376 Issues and Problems in Black Literature

02 TTH7 CAC 30797 SHOCKLEY MU-208

In Fall 2011, section 02 can also fulfill Twentieth Century

02-Contemporary Narratives of Slavery
Some of the most widely read and highly acclaimed novels of the past few decades have been set during the era of slavery: Toni Morrison’s Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, Charles Johnson won the 1990 National Book Award for Middle Passage, and Edward P. Jones’s The Known World won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer in 2004.  These and other works tell the narratives of enslaved (and free) black people from their perspectives, as the authors imagine them.  But how do we imagine the subjectivity of people who were only rarely allowed to tell their stories during the long centuries of slavery in the Americas?  How do writers uncover the views of people whose passage across the seas or presence in the U.S. was recorded primarily in terms of dollars and cents?

 This course will consider the significance of contemporary narratives of slavery (including “neo-slave narratives”) to understand what draws late 20th- and early 21st-century writers to revisit this historical territory.  How can writing the past enable authors to explore the concerns of the present?  What can creative inquiries into the lives of the enslaved teach us about contemporary African American subject positions?  Issues of agency and resistance, cultural memory, and the limitations of history will also connect the texts we take up.  Our reading list will include a small sample of nonfiction (autobiographical) texts by formerly enslaved African Americans, for context, but will focus on a variety of novels and poems published within the last 25 years.  Probable texts: The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself (1845); Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs (1861); Kindred, by Octavia Butler (1979); Dessa Rose, Sherley Anne Williams (1986); Middle Passage, by Charles Johnson (1990); The Known World, by Edward P. Jones (2003); Slave Moth, by Thylias Moss (2004); A Mercy, by Toni Morrison (2009); and Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, by Kevin Young (2011).  Course evaluation will be based on attendance (mandatory), participation in class discussion and on a course blog, quizzes, and two papers.